Google's stated objective is to return relevant search results. By adopting mobile-first indexing, the search engine recognizes that most users view websites through mobile devices and not desktop computers. The search engine says that this new way to analyze sites does not affect ranking. However, SEO experts note that the mobile site is now a company's primary site. Failure to maximize user experience on this platform can therefore have a domino effect that leads to a reduction in organic search results.
What is mobile-first indexing?
The phrase "mobile-first indexing" is a bit misleading. In order to show up in Google, the search engine must index your site's pages. In the past, Google indexed the desktop version of the site. Now, as the majority of users access sites using mobile devices, the search engine is indexing the mobile site instead. So, it's not really "mobile-first," but rather, "mobile only."
How will mobile-first indexing affect my placement in search engines?
Google says that indexing should not affect ranking directly. Google's official blog says content that is not mobile-friendly may still be shown to users, if it has value according to the search engine's other indicators. However, there are a few indirect ways that this new process could affect your SEO.The first is the optimization of your pages. If you have focused on high-quality content for the desktop version of the site, you don't want to lose that value. Those pages should also appear on the mobile version, in a format engaging to the user.That's the second way mobile-first indexing might affect SEO: user experience. If your site looks great on desktop, but lousy on mobile, user experience will suffer. Google uses a thousands of search quality raters, real-life people who look at pages at the top of search results, in order to improve its algorithm. If your site offers a poor user experience, your rankings will sink. Poor user experience also leads to fewer people engaged with your site. Someone who lands on your site and is put off by a confusing layout, large logo, or hard-to-read content, might get a negative impression of your brand. That leads to fewer backlinks, perhaps poor Google reviews, and fewer return visits. All of that can cause your SEO ranking to decline.
What should you do about mobile-first indexing?
Those companies who thought of the mobile version of their site as secondary must now view it as the public face of their brand. To optimize this version, it may be as simple as reviewing the mobile version and making sure it gives value to the user. There are other technical aspects as well, such as removing popups that work well on desktop but incur a Google penalty when shown on mobile.
What happens if our website had a bad mobile user-experience?
If your site needs updating, there's comfort in knowing that Google crawls your site looking for changes on a regular basis. How often Google crawls certain URLs is the subject of some debate, but the fact that it happens means that you have the opportunity to create pages that offer a better user experience. That way, you can gain user trust and impress the search engine algorithm.
What happens if we don't currently have a responsive website?
In order to bring your site up to speed, it's helpful to review all elements of what makes a positive user experience. You don't have to create a site that is antithetical to your brand or exactly like every other one on the web. But there are some core aspects to which you should pay attention, specifically on the mobile version.
Straightforward layout and design. Avoid confusing the user with too many menus, or hyperlinks that don't seem to go anywhere relevant.
Easy-to-read text. Streamline the content, break it up with bold headers, and use a font that is scannable on a mobile device.
Visual appeal. This criteria is subjective, but pay attention to color schemes and pictures in order to create a strong visual experience. A picture that looks beautiful on desktop can take up half the screen on a mobile device, causing users to scroll unnecessarily.
Rapid load time. Users should not have to wait to access your site. Early generation websites heavy with graphics appropriate for desktop often didn't convert well to mobile. It's wise now to think ahead about what content loads fast, while still maximizing engagement.
Functionality. Try to avoid a scenario where it is hard for a user to interact with your site. Perhaps they have to pinch the screen to zoom in, tap through too many menus to get what they are after, or otherwise make it hard to email you or make a purchase.There are experts who offer guidance on these specific elements, but it's largely intuitive. Imagine the core demographic whom you want to attract with your website. Ask yourself if the experience you offer is the best they could have using a common smartphone. If it's not, it's time to make some changes.
Is this a new approach to SEO?
Mobile-first indexing is an evolution of a long-expressed intention at Google: to give users the best results. It's been more than three years since Google first started to prioritize mobile-friendly pages in mobile search results. As of last summer, the search engine has docked slow-loading pages. Given these facts, it's clear mobile-first indexing is just the latest step in catering to the majority of users who get their online content from a handheld device. Looking for a partner in your SEO strategy? Bowen Media can help. Contact us today.